Robert Palmer's taste is too sophisticated for his own good. He regularly picks the best songs and the best musicians, and the combination inevitably exposes his limitations as a vocalist. This happened again Saturday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Palmer was backed by one of the finest funk rhythm sections to visit this area in some time, and he sang numerous duets with B.J. Nelson, one of New York's top studio singers. Palmer tried an ambitious array of songs, ranging from Jermaine Jackson's "Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin' " and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Zara" to Hu sker Du 's "New Day Rising." Not once did Palmer match the original model.
The rhythm section of drummer Dony Wynn, bassist Frank Blair and guitarist Eddie Martinez brought a frenetic yet precise syncopation to every song, whether it was Palmer's recent hit, the hard-rock march "Addicted to Love," or the evening's highlight, an exhilarating choral arrangement of Nigerian juju music. Wynn's virtually nonstop drumming tied the whole show into a handful of long medleys. Looking and sounding like David Bowie in a dark tailored suit, Palmer simply wasn't expressive enough to lend a distinct personality to the grooves.
The opening set featured two-fifths of the late lamented Go-Go's: lead singer Belinda Carlisle and guitarist Charlotte Caffey. Playing five tunes from Carlisle's debut solo album and one Go-Go's song, the duo evinced none of the girl-group camaraderie and garage-rock spirit that made the Go-Go's so special. Instead they teamed up with four male hacks to create slick L.A. pop-rock so faceless and empty it could have come from Quarterflash or Fiona. You never appreciate a drummer like the Go-Go's Gina Shock until she's gone.